Online Privacy With Anonymous Web Surfing | The Communication Blog

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Online Privacy With Anonymous Web Surfing

By Suzy Quid

What is anonymous web surfing and how is it related to online privacy? Simply put, anonymous web surfing is using the Internet without making public information such as the browser you are using, your IP address, your computer system, your location, etc.

The reality is, whenever you visit a website, you are allowing the server at the other end to get your IP address and possibly other information as well, such as your location, the computer system you are using, etc. In the case of the IP address, the server running the website that you are visiting needs it to return information to you. Without it, all you will see in your browser is a blank page or an error message. It is highly likely that your browsing history of the website (i.e. times you visited the website, links you clicked, data you entered) are also recorded by that server. This kind of information is usually collected for statistical, marketing, technical or legal purposes. It is also possible that your company or school has some Internet usage policies that require blocking of certain sites from being accessed by employees or students. Because of this, the server and firewalls will be configured to keep track of your Internet activities.

Anonymous surfing is done through an anonymous browser based proxy (a.k.a anonymizing proxy). This kind of website allows you to enter the URL of the web page or website that you want to visit, and the service will direct you to it while hiding your information from the other server. The website you visited will have no way to determine your IP address or location, because it would seem that all requests for information came from the proxy.

How reliable are these services? While companies offering anonymous surfing may be sincere in not divulging your information, law enforcement agencies can access their records and it is not far-fetched that this technique can be used for surveillance purposes.

And how long will it take before the server administrator in your office or school notices that you are using an anonymizing proxy? It is also possible to see what websites you are accessing using this method by inspecting the URL's embedded in the URL sent to the proxy or doing DNS queries. You may be violating office or school policy, which could be grounds for a reprimand, or worse, dismissal.

More importantly, anonymous surfing is not the same as encrypting sensitive information such as login credentials (i.e. username, password) and credit card details when transmitted over the Internet. Some users may lulled into a false sense of security and will not know that the credit card information they typed in are unencrypted and easily retrieved by hackers or server administrators with malicious plans.

There is plenty of information on the Internet on what to look for in a web proxy service for anonymous surfing. Consider also that anonymous web proxy services tend to be unstable and the current list changes constantly. Some services are offered for free, while some are not. Others are available for free but with limited features. To get the full benefit, you must pay one or more fees.

In short, do your homework and read the fine print. Make anonymous web surfing work for you instead of creating potentially bigger problems.

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